The Kennedy Center National Symphony Orchestra Family Concerts are both educational and entertaining. They often feature additional experiences, like an Instrument Petting Zoo where young audience members can experience musical instruments and meet NSO musicians. This particular concert — Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs — paired two Kennedy Center Artists in Residence: Mo Willems and Ben Folds. In addition to the Instrument Petting Zoo, there was a small art exhibit of Mo Willems’ artwork inspired by Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The entire afternoon at the Kennedy Center was a feast for the eyes, ears, and heart.
The best-selling book Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems was originally published in 2012. I was familiar with Willems’ work, but I knew it would be best to bring an expert with me to help me better understand the material. I invited Clara the 5-year-old Dinosaur Expert to help me write this review. (She also knows where the pigeon is hiding, so I knew I called the right person!)
The Symphonic Spectacular began with Conductor Enrico Lopez-Yañez walking out and shaking the hand of the concertmaster. Soon after, Narrator Evan Casey walked out as waves of giggles rolled through the audience — noticing the exaggerated tails of his formal attire. Casey shook the hand of Lopez-Yañez and then began the story: “Goldilocks and the three FOXES…” and the audience erupted with laughter. He tried again: “Goldilocks and the three pirates?” “Nooooo!” replied the audience. After a few more attempts (dramatically accompanied by the NSO), Lopez-Yañez mimed a Tyrannosaurus Rex motion and Casey proudly proclaimed: “Goldilocks and the three dinosaurs!,” which was met with loud cheers and enthusiasm. It was a pitch-perfect way to start the show.
Papa Dinosaur (Andrew Ross Wynn) and Mama Dinosaur (Erika Rose) soon galumphed onto the stage, wearing formal attire, dinosaur claws, and enormous tails. Wynn and Rose were wonderfully animated and larger than life with their booming voices and characterizations. The Norwegian Dinosaur, played by Broadway’s Tony Yazbeck, was a fish out of water — having just arrived from Norway. His entrance was silly and memorable from upstage behind the NSO, interacting with musicians as he dragged his wheeled luggage to his place beside the other dinosaurs. Goldilocks was played by Broadway’s Montego Glover, dressed in a pink sparkly dress and with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Glover’s portrayal was equal parts Lucy Van Pelt and Little Red Riding Hood — confident, stubborn, and independent.
Clara the Dinosaur Expert informed me that the story wasn’t about just any dinosaurs — they were based on real dinosaurs. “The orange one [Norwegian Dinosaur] was the Styracosaurus, Mommy was the Allosaurus ’cause her horns are under her hair, and the T-Rex is the Dad.” After showing me photos of the dinosaurs that inspired Willems’ characters, she stated, “They were dressed up wrong — it was just their regular clothes with tails and claws.” I told her that costume designer Erik Teague planned it like that because they were with the National Symphony Orchestra and wanted to look fancy. She said she liked Goldilocks’ dress the best, and how it moved around when she was “think think thinking.”
Ben Fold’s accompanying compositions were perfectly paired with the moods and scenes of the story. I’m no dinosaur expert, but I did notice the leitmotifs in Fold’s compositions and thought they fit nicely with the characters. Clara particularly liked the “Think Think Think” piece as Goldilocks did more thinking than she ever had before. The staged story had a different ending than the book — and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for future young audiences. But I will reveal that the song at the end of the piece was performed beautifully by Yazbek and Glover. Some younger members of the audience did begin to lose focus during the ballad, but older audience members enjoyed the clever wordplay and introspection.
Mo Willems and Ben Folds joined the cast and orchestra for a bow after the story. Conductor Lopez-Yañez then led the NSO in two interactive pieces: Juba Dance by Florence Price and The Block by Carlos Simon. Ben Folds returned to the stage to introduce his final piece: The Show Is Over-Ture. He shared that when he was younger, he wanted to play percussion — specifically a timpani. When he soon learned that he wasn’t very good at timpani, he decided to keep trying other ways to make music — eventually leading to the percussive piano playing that he is known for today. He joined the NSO percussion section for the piece entitled, The Show Is Over-Ture, in an unforgettable performance of determination.
I asked Clara the Dinosaur Expert what her favorite part of the experience was. She responded without hesitation: “Everything. I liked all of the parts.” You don’t have to be a dinosaur expert to like all of the parts that made this possible: Mo Willems, Ben Folds, The National Symphony Orchestra, and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
To learn more about Ben Folds and Mo Willems’ creative processes, I recommend starting with this episode of Ben’s podcast, “Lightning Bugs: Conversations with Ben Folds” featuring Mo Willems.
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs performed on April 30, 2022, in the Concert Hall at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC.
COVID Safety: Proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 is required to attend all indoor performances and events at the Kennedy Center through May 14. As of May 15, the Kennedy Center will no longer require vaccine verification; however, masks will still be required for all patrons, regardless of vaccination status, inside all theaters during performances at the Center unless actively eating or drinking. Kennedy Center’s complete COVID safety policy is here.
CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM
Mo Willems, author, director
Ben Folds, composer
Enrico Lopez-Yañez, conductor
Montego Glover, Goldilocks
Tony Yazbeck, Norwegian Dinosaur
Andrew Ross Wynn, Papa Dinosaur
Erika Rose, Mama Dinosaur
Evan Casey, narrator
Justine Icy Moral, understudy
Benjamin Lurye, understudy
Megan Alrutz, dramaturg
Erik Teague, costume designer
AJ Guban, lighting designer
Julia Singer, stage manager
Kyla S. Mermejo-Varga, assistant stage manager